Israel hits Bethlehem in Christmas raids on occupied West Bank

Dozens have been arrested as Israeli forces stormed Jenin and areas around Nablus.

Fire and smoke rises during an Israeli army operation in Jenin, West Bank, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Fire and smoke rises during an Israeli army operation in Jenin, West Bank [File: Majdi Mohammed/AP]

Christmas day in the occupied West Bank began with an attack on the Jenin refugee camp and several arrests.

The raid on Monday morning followed several others across the territory, which saw dozens of arrests and the shooting in the neck of a 17-year-old boy. Among towns hit was Bethlehem.

Jenin, commonly viewed as a symbol of Palestinian resistance to occupation, has been repeatedly targeted by Israeli forces since its war with Hamas in Gaza began on October 7.

On Monday, the Jenin-based Freedom Theatre, a popular symbol of peace and hope that was recently raided and vandalised by Israeli soldiers, described how Israeli forces lit up the sky “with flare bombs” whilst raiding the camp.

Reporting from the Jenin refugee camp, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said that the Israeli army raided at least 10 houses saying they were looking for Palestinians to arrest. However, no detentions were made.

“Israeli forces did call for Palestinian fighters to come out and give themselves up but that didn’t happen either. Residents are telling us that this is simply a campaign of harassment,” Khan said.

“Jenin refugee camp is now the most raided camp in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli forces are destroying any symbol of resistance or nationalism in the camp.”

While the raids in the camp and Jenin region have now reportedly ended, at least nine young men were arrested in the al-Jalama village, northeast of Jenin.

Regions in and near Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah and Bethlehem – which Christians believe is the birthplace of Jesus Christ – were also raided overnight by Israeli forces, Al Jazeera’s Hamdah Salhut reported.

In the village of Burqa, northwest of the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces arrested at least 20 people, including senior citizens.

Moreover, Palestinian news agency Wafa said that a 17-year-old boy was injured after he was hit in the neck when Israeli forces fired live ammunition during a raid in the town of Aqaba, north of Tubas.

Wafa reported that Israeli forces also arrested another resident of Tubas before withdrawing from the town.

Increased violence in the occupied West Bank

The West Bank has seen surging violence and arrests in parallel to Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip which has killed more than 20,000 Palestinians.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas in Gaza, but the violence in the West Bank is taking place despite Hamas having limited presence in the territory.

Israeli incursions into the West Bank have killed at least 303 Palestinians since October 7.

In addition to the activities of Israel’s military, attacks by Israeli settlers are also on the rise.

At least 700,000 Israeli settlers live in illegal, fortified, Jewish-only settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the majority of which were built either entirely or partially on private Palestinian land.

Attacks, which have increased exponentially over the past three months, include shootings, stabbings, rock throwing and beatings, as well as arson and serious damage to homes, vehicles and agricultural land.

The United Nations noted that “in nearly half of all incidents, Israeli forces were either accompanying or actively supporting the attackers”.

Rights groups, Palestinians, and some in the international community have slammed Israel for not doing enough to stop settler violence.

Earlier this month, countries like Belgium and the United States announced they would impose visa restrictions on “extremist” Israeli settlers involved in undermining peace, security or stability in the occupied West Bank.

At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government ratified a decision to assign $21m to support new settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies